Ohio Valley ReSource

A regional journalism collaborative reporting on economic and social change in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia.

With support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, seven public media outlets across the three states have partnered to form the ReSource in order to strengthen news coverage of the area’s most important issues.

Jessie Wright/WVPB

The Justice family companies’ difficulties paying taxes over the years are well documented. But tax collectors haven’t been the only ones trying to recover debts from companies once operated by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and now in control of his family.

A review of court documents by the Ohio Valley ReSource found at least five cases in which judges ruled that Justice family companies failed to pay suppliers for goods or services.

 

Wikimedia Commons

The commission has for months now been considering a proposal that would roll back its oversight of water pollution control standards along the Ohio River.

The 8-state body says standards set by member states will protect water quality in the Ohio. And the board argues the federal EPA will provide adequate oversight.

But at a meeting Thursday, the committee tasked with making recommendations to the commission said it needed more time.

ORSANCO Director Richard Harrison says thousands of people have weighed in on the proposal.

Rebecca Kiger

After decades of addiction to heroin and prescription opioids, Wendy Crites finally made a clean break.

“For the first time in my life I just wanted to be off of it,” she said from her home in Ranson, West Virginia. “I hit rock bottom.”

Last year the ReSource profiled Crites, a single mother getting by on low-wage jobs during her first year of sobriety.

 

Courtesy the office of Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Retired coal miners and coal community activists are on Capitol Hill this week urging action on two important issues for miners: pensions and black lung benefits. Advocates say funds supporting both pensions for retired miners and the federal benefits for those sickened by black lung disease are at risk if Congress does not act. 

Pension Problem

Jess Wright/WVPB

As President Trump attempts to revive the struggling coal industry, the administration’s top regulator for mine safety used a recent lecture at West Virginia University to lay out his priorities for the agency charged with keeping miners safe.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health David Zatezalo outlined the Trump administration’s priorities for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA.

Mary.Meehan

In a comprehensive new report on the opioid crisis, the U.S. surgeon general writes that stigma remains a major barrier to treatment and urges a more supportive approach to those in need.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams wrote in his Spotlight on Opioids report that stigma has prevented people with opioid use disorders from seeking treatment.

Aaron Payne/Ohio Valley ReSource

New data from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show a rare bright spot amid the opioid crisis. Fewer high schoolers in the region appear to be using opioids.

School officials in the Ohio Valley want to continue that trend with more school-based programs designed to help prevent substance use disorders. But these are not the same drug prevention programs many people remember from their school days.

 

WEKU.Fm

The federal government released today a report on substance abuse and mental illness across the country. Dr. Elinor McCance-Katz  leads the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. She said there are some positive changes.

“One of the most important findings from this national survey and data set is the very steep decline in new users of heroin from 2016, 170,000 new users of heroin, this dropped by more than half to 81,000 new users in 2017.”

In spite of the good news, the study showed there are still nearly 900,000 heroin users in the United States. 

Brittany Patterson/Ohio Valley ReSource

William Suan is no stranger to the problems abandoned oil and gas wells can cause.

“It’s just an eyesore,” he said, standing inside a barn on his cattle ranch near Lost Creek, West Virginia. “I had to fence one off because it’s leaking now.”

There are five inactive wells on his land, most installed in the ’60s and ’70s, and the companies that owned the wells have long since gone out of business.

 

Mary Meehan

Laura Ellis and Jonese Franklin from WFPL in Louisville invited Ohio Valley ReSource reporters Mary Meehan, who is based at WEKU, and Aaron Payne, who is based at WOUB, to talk about covering the opioid epidemic. 

The depth of the challenges and health consequences in rural communities are often underestimated.

This latest edition of Recut is worth a listen

Nicole Erwin/ Ohio Valley ReSource

Suzanna Johnson is an education officer with the Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue in Camner, Kentucky. Johnson is looking after a pregnant horse she rescued recently.

“Be good,” she instructs the mare, named CC, and pats her belly.  

Becca Schimmel/Ohio Valley ReSource

After nearly 30 years of construction, Olmsted Locks and Dam passed the first tow barge through its system at a ceremony Thursday  on the Ohio River. The $3 billion  infrastructure project that’s touted as the hub of the nation’s inland waterways.

Vice.com

At the heart of this case are contract disputes between a paper company called WestRock and two coal companies controlled by the Justice family.

WestRock and Southern Coal Corporation have for years been fighting in court over a coal supply agreement for a paper mill in Florida.

The parties had settled, but after making three payments, Southern Coal stopped. This year, a federal court awarded WestRock a settlement totalling just over one-million-dollars.

Olmstead Lock, Dam To Open After Decades Of Work

Aug 29, 2018
Becca Schimmel/Ohio Valley ReSource

After nearly 30 years of work the Army Corps of Engineers will partially open a new locks-and-dam system Thursday on the Ohio River between Kentucky and Illinois.Ships and barges will be able to start using the Olmsted Locks and Dam in October. 

Kara Lofton/WVPB

When President Trump wants to talk coal, he comes to West Virginia. So it was not surprising that the president visited Charleston just hours after his administration unveiled a long-awaited overhaul of the Obama administration’s signature climate change regulation, the Clean Power Plan.

“We’re cancelling Obama’s illegal, anti-coal-destroying regulations. The so-called Clean Power Plan,” Trump told the cheering crowd.

In Ohio Valley Visits, Trump Administration Pushes Policies Supporting Mining And Metals

Aug 23, 2018
Kara Lofton/WVPB

In back-to-back events this week President Trump and his commerce secretary visited the Ohio Valley to tout administration policies aimed at propping up two of the region’s traditional but faltering industries — metals and mining.

The president used a Tuesday rally filled with West Virginia coal miners to unveil a new plan to ease pollution requirements on coal-burning power plants.

 

Ohio Valley ReSource

Only 35 percent of active coal miners currently participate in free black lung screenings offered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH. This despite the fact that cases of black lung are at a 25-year high. Federal lawmakers want NIOSH to find out why so few miners participate. But they haven’t allocated any funds to see it done.

Virginia Democrat Mark Warner introduced the amendment this week into a wide-ranging spending bill package currently being debated on the Senate floor.

Trump Touts Coal Industry Comeback At W. VA. Rally

Aug 22, 2018
Kara Lofton/WVPB

Hours after the head of the EPA unveiled a more industry-friendly version of power plant regulations, President Trump used a rally in West Virginia to claim that his policies have revitalized the coal industry.

 “And it is really happening. We are back. The coal industry is back,” Trump told the clapping and cheering crowd. 

But industry statistics reveal a muted job recovery in coal, at best.

Ohio Valley ReSource

The president will be in Charleston tonight campaigning for West Virginia attorney general and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Morrissey. Trump is also expected to unveil his administration’s overhaul of the Clean Power Plan.

That Obama-era regulation aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in an effort to stem the effects of climate change. The rule took a broad approach and encouraged states to shift electricity generation away from coal toward cleaner natural gas and renewable energy. 

Anthony Scott Lockard/Kentucky River Health District

In a room at the Letcher County Health Department in Whitesburg, Kentucky, about 20 people are learning how to use naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication.

Among them is 18-year-old Morgan Hopkins. An aspiring therapist, Hopkins said she wants to be ready with naloxone if someone overdoses around her.

 

“You never know what you’re going to see,” she said. “If anything goes wrong, you have it, rather than you don’t have it.”

to: Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Automotive manufacturing leaders met in Kentucky to discuss how changes in U.S. trade policy under President Trump affect the industry and its growing presence in the Ohio Valley.

Industry leaders gathered for the annual AutoVision conference and many don’t like what they see coming.

Jim Justice Continues To Owe Millions In Back Taxes

Aug 7, 2018
West Virginia Public Media

  After years of delinquency, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice says his family company’s overdue taxes and fines in the state have been cleared. But Justice offered no information on millions owed in Kentucky and other states. Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports.

West Virginia revenue officials say the debt obligations from Justice’s coal companies have been paid, including fines and taxes. Justice failed to say how much was owed and whether any of the amounts paid were reduced as part of negotiations.

Nicole Erwin/ Ohio Valley ReSource

West Kentucky farmer Judy Wilson says her family is a bit of a sundry bunch.

“We love the farm, but we also love all the nature,” she said.

Wilson is driving down a back-country road that divides two fields, to the left is her soybean crop and to the right is 102 acres that she has placed in the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program, something her husband always wanted.

 

Bill Ambrose/You Voice Ohio

An Ohio-based collaborative thinks journalists can play a bigger role in solving the region’s opioid crisis. The effort starts with listening to people in some of the hardest-hit communities.

A group of about 50 people gathered in a small building at the fairgrounds in Marietta, Ohio, to share their thoughts on the region’s opioid crisis with local journalists.

 

Some have studied addiction for years. Others have only experienced it through a loved one. And some, like Washington County resident Jackson Patterson, have seen both sides of the epidemic.

 

Jim Thacker is frustrated.

The spokesperson for the Madison County, Kentucky, Health Department said there is a real threat of a Hepatitis A outbreak at the detention center right down the road in Richmond.

Built to house about 240 inmates, it holds more than 400.  

“It’s like a petri dish, they are packed so close together,” he said.

Mary Meehan

Health officials in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia say the number of overdose deaths related to the opioid crisis continued to rise in 2017 as state data began to reflect the fatalities related to the powerful drug fentanyl.

A new report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy found 1,565 died from drug overdoses last year, up 11.5 percent from 2016.

Fentanyl played a factor in more than half of the overdose cases in which a toxicology report was available.

Vivian Stockman and Southwings

An area roughly the size of Delaware has been mined for coal in Appalachia using mountaintop removal, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Researchers from Duke University and nonprofit organizations SkyTruth and Appalachian Voices developed an open-source mapping tool drawing on satellite imagery.

Mary Meehan/Ohio Valley ReSource

The low rumble of industrial fans fills the Catholic Action Center in Lexington, a shelter that provides meals and other services for homeless people.

It’s mid-morning on a hot July day and dozens of people sit camped on couches in the entryway, or slouch at tables nearby. Despite the fans the air is stale from too many bodies too close together — ideal conditions for the spread of disease.

 

Region’s Black Lung Rates Highest In 25 Years

Jul 19, 2018
OVR

A new study by federal health officials finds the recent surge in cases of black lung disease is especially concentrated among coal miners in central Appalachia.

Researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say the rate of black lung disease among experienced miners in central Appalachia is the highest they have seen in a quarter century.

Wikimedia Commons

Experts are telling Kentucky lawmakers that gun violence needs to be addressed as a public health crisis and they are recommending lawmakers consider legislation that would require gun owners to lock up their firearms.

A legislative committee heard testimony Wednesday about how gun violence impacts young people across the state and country. 

Pages